Early-Season Scouting Tidbits: Sophomore Surge
Which prospects are catching our eye? Who is rising and falling through the first few weeks of college hoops? A quick flyover of some 2023 NBA Draft buzz for the sophomores class
Sometimes it just takes a year or so to adjust to your surroundings.
Development is never linear, meaning some players take major steps forward earlier than others. For the late-developing crowd or the guys who simply need a year under their belt to get comfortable with their surroundings, a giant step forward during year #2 in college basketball can be what takes a player from ‘brimming with potential’ to ‘legitimate pro prospect.’
Last year’s college basketball season was the perfect example of why counting players out after their freshman year would be poor practice. We dubbed last year the “year of the sophomore” by Christmas due to the large number of second-year collegiates churning out lottery-worthy production. When all was said and done, Jaden Ivey, Keegan Murray, Johnny Davis, and Mark Williams all went in the top 15 after undergoing a sophomore surge.
This year’s crop of sophs may not have the same firepower as that group. However, there can still be major leaps of development taken that turn individuals into more certain NBA players and, at the very least, much more certain producers than they were as freshmen. Today’s article celebrates those who have started to take the next step forward and are increasing their draft stock as a result.
We’ll divide our sophomore chatter into four distinct sections: stock up, stock neutral, stock down, and under-discussed guys that belong on one-and-done radars. We start with the guys who are most clearly improving their draft stock, many of whom could be lauded as the next superstar.
Sophomore Stock Up
DaRon Holmes, Dayton - Holmes was one of the most dominant big men over the final month of the season last year, and he’s carried that with him to the start of his sophomore campaign. Holmes worked on his body last year and has gotten stronger, a jump that many second-years make to hang with the physicality of college. Increased strength helps Holmes battle on the glass and finish in traffic. He’s so light off the ground on offense, is a great roll threat, has tons of technique on the interior, and shows some potential to shoot it. He’s a vastly underrated passer too, commanding doubles inside and making the right kickouts. Most importantly, Holmes is everywhere on defense, flying around and challenging shots on the interior to limit what opponents get. Holmes was on the late-first, early-second radar coming into the season and may be playing his way towards becoming a first-round lock.
Will Richard, Florida - Smart, physical shooters are in high demand. Since transferring from Belmont up to Florida, Richard has proven that his game translates to the SEC. Richard is shooting above 60% from 2-point range again, over 40% from 3, and playing a simple brand of basketball. He’s yet to have a recorded assist through four games; he’ll be purely a floor spacer at the next level and find ways to drill shots or attack closeouts. He’s really tough in traffic when he attacks the rim, has great touch, and is simple with his dribble moves. He’s great in transition, too. Just an all-around hard worker who has a really scalable game. We love him as a second-round prospect.
Tucker DeVries, Drake - The son of Drake’s head coach Darian DeVries, Tucker played as their most important offensive piece during his freshman campaign. A major step forward as a shot-maker and athletically would solidify DeVries’ spot as a legitimate second-round prospect, though. What we’re seeing is the sophomore handle the challenge in non-conference play of being the top scoring option, utilize some athletic gains on the defensive end, and shoot the ball much more consistently from 3-point range than he did a year ago. DeVries is averaging 21.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 54.7% from the field and 37.5% from deep. He’s a legitimate pro prospect that cannot be ignored.
Taran Armstrong, Cal Baptist - Another mid-major contributor, Armstrong was perhaps the best passer in college basketball a season ago. He makes some wildly daring cross-court throws and has an unbelievable feel when operating out of the pick-and-roll. Scoring didn’t come easy to Armstrong, so finding ways to convert near the hoop and knock down perimeter jumpers was needed to diversify his offensive portfolio. Well, Armstrong has caught fire from deep to start the year (5-8 from 3) and is looking a tad sprier on the court. We’ll see how this holds up — the sample size is too small through four games and eight 3-point attempts to proclaim Taran a changed player. It is worth noting that he’s trending in the right direction, however.
Brandon Murray, Georgetown - The LSU transfer came to the Hoys to become their new number-one option. At LSU, Murray was intense on the defensive end and really used his length at 6’5” to his advantage. Murray’s been much more potent as a 3-point shooter to start the year for the troublesome Hoyas (43.5% on 4.6 attempts). While he’s only shooting 39% from the field overall, it’s Murray’s passing that’s been a revelation. If he can keep averaging 15 points and 4 assists while playing tough-nosed perimeter defense and shooting it effectively from deep, he’ll be a big guard that teams can easily fall in love with. The Hoyas may be pretty sorry right now, but Murray has been excellent.
Sophomore Stock Neutral
Terquavion Smith, NC State - Let’s be clear. There have been notable improvements in Terquavion’s game. He’s converting at the basket better and looks stronger with the ball in his hands. A 6’4” scoring guard, Smith is best when he has a long leash to score it, something the Wolfpack are more than willing to give him. Smith loves to split ball screens and get into the lane, which we love to see. He’s passing with more verve and creating for others, taking the top option role seriously and distributing more in the absence of Dereon Seabron. All that said, I don’t see Smith taking a leap into top-ten territory due to his sometimes overly-ambitious shot selection. He’s more of a late-lottery to mid-1st guy (anywhere from 12 to 25), and that’s where he was for us coming into the season. Moving up higher on draft boards will require not just this same production throughout the whole season but simply getting eyes on other prospects (Whitmore, Smith, Whitehead) who have been out due to injury and similarly have high offensive potential.